312 B. POLEVOI It was a clear evening, fragrant, and so quiet that the rumble of the now distant gun-fire sounded not like the noise of battle, but like the thunder of a passing storm. The road ran through what had formerly been a rye-field. The dreary weeds which in the ordinary human world timidly send up slender stalks in the corners of a yard, or on a heap of stones on the edge of a field, in those places that the master's eye rarely reaches, stood here like a solid wall, huge, arrogant and strong, overpowering the land that had been made fruitful by the sweat of many generations of toilers. Only here and there could a few thin ears of wild rye, like feeble blades of grass, be seen struggling against this mass. The weeds devoured all the substances of the soil, absorbed all the rays of the sun, deprived the rye of light and sustenance, and so these few ears had withered before they had bloomed and never filled with grain. Meresyev reflected: that is how the fascists wanted to take root in our fields, to devour the substances of our soil, to rob us of our riches, to rise up terrible and arrogant, to shut out the sun and drive our great, labour-loving, mighty people from their fields and gardens, deprive them of everything, overwhelm and crush them as these weeds had crushed these feeble ears which had now lost even outward resemblance to a strong and beatiful ce- real. Overcome by a wave of boyish energy, he swung his ebony stick and hacked at the reddish, feathery weeds, and was filled with elation when whole batches of the arrogant heads were cut down. The sweat poured down his face, but he kept on hacking at the weeds that had choked the rye, rejoicing in the sensation of struggle and action that filled his tired body. Quite unexpectedly a jeep snorted behind him and with squeaking brakes pulled up on the road. Without looking round, Meresyev guessed that the Wing Com- mander had overtaken him and had seen him in this boyish occupation. He flushed up to his ears and, pretend- ing he had not heard the approach of the car, began to dig the earth with his stick. But he heard the colonel say: Cutting 'em down? It's a useful occupation. I've been looking for you all over the place. Everybody's asking for our-hero* And here he is warring- with weeds."